July 22, 2008

Amherst Teams Partner with "Friends of Jaclyn"

Courtesy Amherst Sports Information

AMHERST, Mass. - Jaclyn Murphy was born a healthy baby, but in March 2004, at just nine years old, she was diagnosed with a malignant and life-threatening brain tumor. Four years later, after countless tests, surgeries and chemotherapy, Jaclyn is not only winning her battle but is also affecting collegiate athletics across the country—including at Amherst.

When the Northwestern University women’s lacrosse team learned about Jaclyn’s brain tumor and her passion for lacrosse, the Wildcats mailed game programs and cards to her and posted heartfelt messages on her Website. When Jaclyn attended a game in 2005 to meet the players, she was made an honorary member of the team. Later that spring, Northwestern won its first national championship in program history.

Seeing how thrilled his daughter was to be a part of a national championship team, Denis Murphy decided to do for other kids what Northwestern had done for Jaclyn. Thus began Friends of Jaclyn, a charitable organization created to improve the quality of life of pediatric brain tumor patients by pairing them with collegiate sports teams.

While the Wildcats were busy winning their first national women’s lacrosse championship (the team has won four titles in four years since Jaclyn’s arrival), Justin Serpone was wrapping up his time as head assistant men’s soccer coach at Northwestern. He sent Denis a letter saying that he wanted to help.

In the fall of 2007, after Serpone became head coach of men’s soccer at Amherst, he introduced Amherst to Michael Lanosa, a nine-year old boy with a brain tumor.

Michael and his family attended an Amherst practice last fall and stayed for a team dinner that night. The next day, Michael sat on the sideline during a game against Wesleyan University and made an immediate impact. Even though Amherst snapped its 11-game winning streak that day and ruined the hopes of a perfect season with a 2-1 defeat, Michael helped to shine some light. “Seeing him run to us after our loss put it in perspective that, hey, we lost a soccer game, but that's all it was,” says then senior captain Ryan O’Donnell ’08. “We were a lot happier with Michael's victory over brain cancer than we could have been with any game we may or may not have won from there on out.”

But Serpone doesn’t want to merely be involved with Friends of Jaclyn—he wants to get out in front. “If Amherst is supposed to be comprised of some of the best and brightest student-athletes, we need to be leaders at the macro level as well,” he says. “All teams want to win national championships, but I also want to be one of the best at serving the community.”

Serpone adds that this is far from being a one-year deal for him and the Lord Jeffs. “This is who we are. This isn’t just a photo op. We want to know Michael when he goes to college.”

Although Friends of Jaclyn is still relatively new to the college, Amherst has already made significant efforts to reach out. Notably, Matt Lewis ’10, the 2006 NESCAC Men’s Soccer Rookie of the Year, set up a soccer practice for Michael’s school last year and was joined by six other members of the Amherst team.

At a national Friends of Jaclyn banquet this past spring, Taylor Downs ’08 discussed the significance of community service. “In a lot of ways, college is a selfish time,” he says. “You’re there to improve yourself and to get your life together. A program like this gives you an outlet, and it’s such a wonderful feeling to reach out and connect with someone like Michael.”

Today, more than 20 collegiate teams have teamed up with Friends of Jaclyn to adopt kids with brain tumors. This year, Amherst’s football, field hockey and men’s lacrosse teams will join Serpone in adopting children. “After meeting Denis and speaking with other teams who are a part of this program, our team unanimously decided that this was something we wanted to do,” says Amherst field hockey head coach Carol Knerr. “Our team has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, support and friendship to offer a young person, and I think we will learn many lessons in return.”

Amherst men’s lacrosse head coach Tom Carmean also notes how his involvement with Friends of Jaclyn made an immediate impact. “I met Denis the day after our last game,” says Carmean, “and I immediately forgot about how our season ended. I saw the tremendous passion Denis has, and he provided a great deal of perspective. It was such an easy thing to say ‘yes’ to.”

The Friends of Jaclyn Web site describes Michael as a boy who “continues to love life and teach us all lessons, like how to be patient and to stop and take a deep breath when frustration gets us.” With any luck, Michael, Jaclyn, and dozens of other kids will continue to teach Amherst—and sports teams across the country—more of life’s lessons.

Fore more information, please visit the Friends of Jaclyn Web site at www.friendsofjaclyn.org.

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